Luke Erickson

Luke Erickson is a season-ticket holder for the Potomac Nationals, but makes a point of seeing games in Hagerstown and Harrisburg at least once a summer. When the PNats are away on the weekend, Luke finds a minor-league game somewhere to watch, and generally attends 70-80 baseball games a year up across several states. A former sportswriter with newspapers in Massachusetts and Oregon, Luke lives in Western Fairfax County with his wife and two sons.

Nov 172012
 

You might be surprised to learn that my mother hardly ever made these…

While we await this afternoon’s AFL Championship game — sorry, not likely to live-tweet; I’m in charge of the animals today, plus the dogs — let’s take a look some Nats-related stuff as we ease into that ugly time where everyday news is not a guarantee…

ANOTHER SIX-YEAR FREE AGENT SIGNING
The Rocket broke it: The Nationals have signed Caleb Clay, a 24-year-old six-year free agent from the Boston organization. Clay has already undergone Tommy John surgery (2007) but has stalled at AA for the past two years as a reliever after starting his first four seasons. SoxProspects pegs him thusly: “Over-the-top, fluid delivery. Lanky frame, still has some projection. Fastball sits between 88-90 mph with good sinking movement. Can induce a lot of groundballs, but he can also give up a lot of hard contact.”

His hallmark has been control, with a career rate of 2.9BB/9IP and season-best of 1.8 per in 2010, and since switching to relief he’s been able to get strikeouts — 8.2K/9IP the past two seasons with Portland. I was unable to confirm if he is still rocking this Balester-esque ‘stache. Best guess at this point: relief inventory for Harrisburg.

SPRING TRAINING SLATE UNVEILED
Mark Zuckerman is back on the beat and characterizes the Nationals 2013 spring schedule as a case for the Nationals to leave Viera, perhaps going to Ft. Myers. Negotiations have been ongoing for most of 2012, with the Nationals reportedly asking for millions of dollars’ worth of upgrades and Lee County trying to whittle down the price tag.

OPTIONS AND SERVICE TIME
Todd Boss over at NationalsArmRace.com has done the hard work on trying to break down the options and service time of the current Nationals roster. With the Nationals ascendancy, this has become less of an issue than it was a few seasons ago, but as we saw with the likes of Ryan Perry (today’s starter in the AFL championship game), it hasn’t gone away. You might want to bookmark this one as I anticipate we’ll be revisiting this issue in the next couple of weeks as we may see some moves that can be explained with this information.

Nov 162012
 

Jason Martinson came off the bench to belt a two-run home run in place of Anthony Rendon as Salt River closed out the regular season with a 7-3 win over Surprise.

Rendon was not hurt, just manager Matt Williams emptying the bench. The 22-year-old singled, walked twice and scored two runs. Defensively, he had two assists while Martinson snared a liner in the 8th for his lone defensive chance; both played third base.

Brian Goodwin also played and went 1-for-4 with a double and a run scored as the Salt River DH.

Cole Kimball was the sole Nats pitcher to appear and had another subpar outing, allowing a run on four hits and a walk over two innings. The 2006 draft pick saw his AFL ERA inflate to 4.80 and his opponent BA rise to .290 with 18 hits allowed in 15 fall innings.

The Rafters will play against the Javelinas in the AFL Championship Game tomorrow, which will be televised on the MLB Network.

Nov 152012
 

With a pair of three-run rallies in the 4th and 5th innings, Salt River cruised past Peoria 6-4 to clinch a spot in the Arizona Fall League Championship Game on Saturday.

Three Nationals saw game action:

  • Matt Skole batted third but went 0-for-3 with a walk. He handled all five defensive chances at first base without an error.
  • Jason Martinson finished the AFL season with a six-game hit streak, as the taxi-squad third baseman notched an assist and was 1-for-3 with a walk.
  • Aaron Barrett gave up a run on two hits and a walk but was credited with a hold while pitching the 8th inning.

Salt River’s opponent for the title game remains to be seen, as second-place Surprise lost to second-place Scottsdale yesterday to keep Peoria in first place by a ½ game. The Rafters visit the Sagauros this afternoon and can eliminate Peoria with a win while the Javelinas host the Desert Dogs and can earn a rematch against Salt River with a win or a Surprise loss.

Nov 142012
 

Now that we’re a couple of weeks into the offseason, free agents are starting to change teams. But first a couple of re-signs:

• C Kris Watts
• OF-1B Jimmy Van Ostrand

Both were veterans with the Harrisburg Senators that were signed during the summer and both are 28-year-olds that could ostensibly play at either AA or AAA next summer.

On to the signings, from Baseball America’s latest dispatch:

• RHP Yefri Pena
• IF Will Rhymes
• SS Leudys Baez
• OF Ray Kruml

There is no listing for either Pena or Baez on baseball-reference.com or milb.com, which leads me to believe that both are IFAs.

Rhymes is a former Detroit farmhand that spent 2012 in the Tampa Bay system and has bounced between AAA and the majors for the past three seasons, hitting .228/.299/.285 in 47 games for the Rays and .256/.326/.390 in 46 games for Durham in the I.L.

Kruml was drafted but did not sign with the Diamondbacks in 2005, and but did sign with the Yankees in 2008. He was released in early August by New York after a disappointing showing in AAA (.225/.267/.310) and signed with St. Louis to finish out the year, where he was even worse at AA (.161/.229/.194).

Nov 142012
 

The Scorpions stung the Rafters for seven first-inning runs en route to a 13-6 win that delayed Salt River’s title hopes for another day.

Paul Demny was among the pitchers victimized by Scottsdale, giving up three runs on six hits over three innings. The 23-year-old walked none and struck out threw 31 of 53 pitches for strikes.

Brian Goodwin led off as the Rafters DH but had an afternoon to forget: 0-for-5 with four strikeouts. The whiff has been the sore spot for Goodwin this fall, as the 22-year-old has racked up 24 in 19 games.

Anthony Rendon batted cleanup and reached base three times (two singles and a walk) while scoring a run. Defensively, he had two assists and no putouts while playing third base.

With the loss, Salt River’s lead over Scottsdale in the AFL East has been cut to 1½ games with two to play. The Rafters host the AFL West-leading Peoria this afternoon while Scottsdale hosts last-place Mesa tonight.

Nov 132012
 

A pair of crooked numbers in the 5th and 6th innings broke open a 2-1 game as the Salt River Rafters doubled up the Mesa Solar Sox, 8-4.

Ryan Perry got the win with a run (solo HR) on three hits given up over four innings, along with three walks and two strikeouts. Perry struggled to find the plate with just 35 of 67 pitches going for strikes.

Matt Skole once again batted third and played first, stroking two singles, drawing two walks, driving in two (including a sac fly) and scoring twice to push his numbers to .321/.429/.554. Defensively, the Georgian racked up eight putouts without an error.

Anthony Rendon shook off Saturday’s oh-fer with a pair of doubles and a walk to improve his line to .319/.488/.686. Rendon played third but had no assists or putouts.

Cole Kimball was scorched for the second time in three outings, surrendering three runs on two hits two walks over an inning and 2/3rds. He did strikeout three, but his ERA ballooned to 4.85 and the 27-year-old has as many walks (8) as strikeouts (8) in 13 innings this fall.

The win puts Salt River in the driver’s seat for a spot in the AFL Championship game on Saturday, as the Rafters lead the AFL East by 2½ games with three to play. They can eliminate second-place Scottsdale with a win today as the two teams meet at the Salt River Fields at Talking Stick this afternoon.

Nov 122012
 

The unexpected success of the 2012 Washington Nationals — those of you who really, really thought they’d win 98 games: How’s the weather today in Colorado? — was fueled in part by the ability of the 2012 Syracuse Chiefs to supply the parent club with replacements when the injury bug bit this year. Carlos Maldonado, Jhonatan Solano, Corey Brown, John Lannan all contributed in spots when needed, while Tyler Moore became a bench player and some teenager became a starter.

The past two Syracuse reviews have alluded to the new world order of AAA — a place for replacements more than a last stop for prospects. As the Nationals cross the rubicon from also-ran to playoff contender, I expect the Chiefs to continue to get older and more experienced, resembling the likes of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pawtucket, and Lehigh Valley more than Toledo, Louisville, and Indianapolis.

I hope that we’ll also see longtime Nationals farmhands be part of that equation, but as we saw last December, that might be too much to wish for.

With that, let’s follow the format… taking a look at the team vs. the International League, then drilling down to the players. The one difference, however, is I’ll focus only on the Top 10 players who were 27 or younger (i.e. league-average age) with significant usage (~100AB, 17G). Full statistics for the team can be found here.
HITTING

PITCHING
 As a 70-74 record would suggest, Syracuse was indeed a team that was middle of the pack: pretty much 6th or 7th in virtually every offensive category, 7th in terms of fielding percentage and errors committed, and mostly 7th in all the pitching categories. The exceptions were pitching walks and strikeouts, both of which were the fewest in the league, and complete games and shutouts, which were the most in the league. With all the comings and goings — a total of 64 players donned the Chiefs uniform (including this fugly getup) in 2012 — this is about the best you can reasonably expect.

Let’s take a look at the age-appropriate batters…
For those wondering, Bryce Harper had just 84PA and rather unimpressive line of .243/.325/.365 in 21 games. It’s certainly proof that these statistics should be taken with a grain of salt, and if you believe the prospect gurus, a pound in the short-season leagues.

Like last year, and even with with the 28+ folks filtered out, you’re still looking at a collection of veteran minor-leaguers with a handful of prospects mixed in. Unfortunately, only one of those is in his first go ’round in AAA (Eury Perez). Zach Walters missed the cut with 105PA, but both he and Perez are both likely to return in 2013, perhaps with a collection of voodoo dolls to facilitate a call-up.

Don’t believe me? Just ask Corey Brown and Carlos Rivero. Brown, who turns 27 in a couple of weeks, has been stuck at Syracuse now for two seasons. Rivero, who had the kind of comeback year that nicely fits the “change of scenery” narrative, seems likely to be back, too. Joining him may be Chris Marrero, who’s probably wondering what might have been for 2012 had he not gotten hurt in winter ball. It’s a stretch (pun most definitely intended) to think that he might have had the season Tyler Moore had (given his defensive limitations), but he’d certainly be in a better position than he is now.

On to the pitchers…
  A year ago I semi-predicted that half of the age-appropriate Chiefs pitchers would no longer be in the organization. Thanks in part to the Gio Gonzalez trade, that turned out to be true. That may very well be true next November, too, though a strong portion of that will simply be because they’ve either aged out or have been granted free agency.

As aforementioned, I expect another wave of FAs to fill out the Syracuse staff. It’s hard to envision more than a couple of the Harrisburg pitchers moving up (my guess: the Ryans Tatusko and Perry) and harder to project anyone other than Christian Garcia making the parent club out of spring training. Of course, that’s not as harsh as that reads when you stop to consider that doing so means cracking the staff that led the National League in ERA and FIP was second in runs allowed.

It’s been a leitmotif while doing the 2012 season reviews that the organization’s strength has shifted from pitchers to position players. Perhaps I’d feel differently if so many weren’t hurt or have had surgery. No. 1 below ought not to be 27 years old and coming off not one but two UCL replacement surgeries, but it’s emblematic of the state of Nationals pitching in the minors… and he certainly looks like a candidate for the 25-man roster next April.

OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE
Heavy emphasis on the obligatory… As you can see below, these are basically the five guys that either haven’t been ranked previously or have time on their side. Garcia has already been covered. The next three will be 25 by next July but only one of them was fully healthy all season long (Rivero). The last turned 26 last month and could potentially be picked next month in the Rule 5 draft (Lehman). This is when my policy of not naming guys to multiple levels (a.k.a. double-dipping) doesn’t look so good.

1. Christian Garcia
2. Carlos Rivero
3. Chris Marrero
4. Erik Komatsu
5. Pat Lehman
HM: Corey Brown

I struggled over whether or not to name Corey Brown yet again. Has he been stuck at Syracuse due to circumstance (i.e. he’s a younger version of Roger Bernadina)? Is he still with the organization only because Mike Rizzo admits his mistakes as readily as Karl Rove? Or is he indeed the dreaded “4A” player? He turns 27 in two weeks, and may not be on the 40-man next week, but I’ll give him the honorable mention because while he may not be a bench or platoon OF for Washington, he could be for another team.

Nov 112012
 

What's With The Flowers? Click to find outSalt River scored five unanswered runs in the final three innings for an 11-5 win over Phoenix that stopped a three-game skid.

Brian Goodwin and Jason Martinson sandwiched the top and the bottom of the Rafters’ batting order. Goodwin, who made two putouts in centerfield, went 1-for-4 with two walks and two runs scored. Martinson hit safely for the fifth straight game, smacking an RBI double, drawing two walks, and getting away with a two-out steal of third. He had no defensive chances.

Aaron Barrett had another 1-2-3 inning, breezing through the eighth inning on six pitches with two groundouts and a strikeout. The 24-year-old Hoosier lowered his ERA to 2.70 and has nine strikeouts in 10 innings this fall.

Salt River’s win kept pace with Scottsdale, which broke its five-game slide with a 4-3 win over Surprise. The two teams remain separated by a game and a half in the AFL East with just four games left — including a head-to-head matchup on Tuesday afternoon.

Nov 102012
 

The Solar Sox scorched the Rafters for two in the 7th to break a 4-4 tie and held on for a 7-5 win, sending Salt River to its third straight loss.

Four Nationals saw game action:

  • Brian Goodwin was the DH and went 1-for-5 with an RBI double, a run scored, but whiffed twice.
  • Matt Skole also had an RBI double and drew a walk while going 1-for-3. He handled all four defensive chances without an error.
  • Anthony Rendon saw his 10-game on-base streak snapped with an 0-for-4 effort and two strikeouts. Defensively, he had a putout and two assists.
  • Cole Kimball went two scoreless innings and allowed a hit and a walk while fanning one, with 17 of 27 pitches thrown for strikes.

Scottsdale lost its fifth in a row, and still trails Salt River by 1½ games with five games left to play and just one more head-to-head matchup (Tuesday). The Rafters finish the penultimate week of the 2012 AFL season with a game against Phoenix this afternoon.

Nov 092012
 

Salt River rallied for three in bottom of the ninth, but it was too little, too late as the Surprise Saguaros handed the Rafters a 4-3 loss.

Just two Nationals made it into the game…

…Anthony Rendon moved up to the No. 2 spot and went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI, hitting safely in eight of nine and extending his on-base streak to 10 games. Defensively, Rendon had no official chances but got a glove on an infield single and a double to left field.

…Paul Demny was the first man out of the ‘pen but was greeted with an RBI double to let in an inherited runner in the 5th, then gave up another double to lead off the 6th; the run scoring two batters later on a sacrifice fly. The final line was one run on two hits, no walks, and two strikeouts over an inning and a third.

Despite the loss, Salt River held on to its 1½-game lead in the AFL East, thanks to Scottsdale’s fourth straight loss. The Rafters host the last-place Solar Sox this afternoon, while the Scorpions head for Phoenix to face the Desert Dogs.